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Pico Shul: Our New Community

On Rosh Hashana Rachel and I founded Pico Shul together with a group of open-minded young adults with the common goal of creating a purposeful, welcoming Jewish community, committed to spiritual growth and living mindfully.
 We are located in the heart of LA’s Pico Robertson neighborhood, amid kosher restaurants, garages, and many other synagogues.

Our home is a converted warehouse run by Tomchei Shabbos which is used every Thursday to distribute food to hundreds of hungry Jewish families. It is also home to two lending organizations, one for wedding gowns and one with centerpieces for simchas. The karma of the place is palpable. It feels good to be amid the thousands of mitzvahs that are performed there every regularly.

World spread quickly about Pico Shul. While many factors contributed to this buzz, something about a new shul for young adults struck a chord. No longer relegated to Young Professional minyanim, young adults will populate and run Pico Shul. Hundreds attended our High Holiday, Days of Awesome services, far outnumbering the number of seats. It was cozy, inspiring, meaningful, musical, meaningful, and more.

When we launched Pico Shul it was, technically speaking, not my first shul. Once upon a time I ran the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw for a while between rabbis. The Chief rabbi fled Poland after pointing his finger at the Pope and the community began a worldwide search for a new Rabbi….who wanted to move to Poland and spoke Polish. Meanwhile, I carried the torch, ensuring minyanim, shchitah, mikvah, buriall and and other rabbinical duties were fulfilled with utmost care and respect. The average age at that time was 88. Sadly they are all gone, a group of men who practiced group grandparenting on me.

Pico Shul merges a passion for Judaism, Torah, social justice, music and community into one entity. We will be different in a lot of things that we do, and we will become, God willing, the spiritual and community home of many young adults. The community of people drawn to shul is already very diverse. Some have lost interest in the entire concept of synagogue. Some wander from shul to shul but have no place to call home. Some got the spirit, studied in yeshiva and have returned to LA and realized they are not Haredi. Some grew up “frum” and some grew up with minimal Jewish content in their lives. One cast off the Torah decades ago and is finding that he fits in here amid the young searching for community. Another loves the short divrei torah that we give between main sections of the service.

Nearly everything about the shul and its early beginnings are fulfillments of divine providence. That might sound outrageous, but its true. Finding a location. Finding funds to renovate the warehouse. Fixing the aging AC that everyone thought was dead. Donations of furniture and prayer books. The list goes on. We still need to get our own Torah, Aaron Ha Kodesh/Holy Ark, Bima/riser, Shulchan/Torah reading table, podiums.

More, much more, remains

to be written about Pico Shul, and I will attempt to capture what I can on the pages of this blog.

We start our programming with Shabbat morning services. Starting at 9am with Torah learning about Noah and then at 9:45 with morning services / shacharit. All this is followed by a kiddush lunch made by my wife, the Rebbiztin Rachel 🙂 and a group of Shul volunteers. We hope that you can join us.

If you want to know support the community please email me at rabbi @ picoshul.org

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Join me for the Days of Awesome High Holiday Experience in Los Angeles

Divine High Holiday Experience 600Please join me for a friendly, joyous, participatory, and mindful celebration of the High Holidays with meaning, melody, and humor. It’s more than just “services” but a way to connect. Get the most out of these powerful days of introspection and join a community of welcoming folks who are there for the experience and the good food :-). We will be having a shofar blowing each day at 9:30am, 11am, and approximately 12:30pm. Some highlights of the Days of Awesome High Holidays include our New Year’s Kabbalistic Kiddush, break out classes, speedy yet intentional services, stories, meditation, song, honey cake, inspiring and chill atmosphere, great Chazzan. . . I really hope you can join us.

As I say in the promotion for the events: “You don’t have to pay a fortune, dress-to-kill, doze-off, question your tribal affiliation, be fluent in Hebrew, hear lengthy sermons, and eat stale honey cake this Rosh Hashanah.”

Reservations are required and cost a nominal $36 to help us pay for some of the costs. For those who want or cannot afford the price, there are also volunteer positions available. Send me a msg via Twitter or Facebook if you are interested.

For more details, program and FAQ read below and SHANA TOVA!

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Mountain High Shabbat Spiritual Adventure, Aug. 23-25

mountain_front_fin2 bannerJoin me for a weekend in the stunning Angeles National Forest mountains. Grab your camping gear, and we’ll provide the food, l’chaims, and spirituality. Wrap up summer in the great outdoors with a breath of fresh air and get fired-up for the New Year ahead. Price is $75 per person.
Mountain High Shabbat Spiritual Adventure
August 23-25, 2013, Angeles National Forest – Jackson Flats

Zip-Line on Sunday for an afternoon adventure as an add-on.

APPLY BELOW- SPACE IS LIMITED – Questions? tova.jewlicious@gmail.com
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Divide Over Kotel Prayer Highlights Racism of Palestinian Authority and Muslim Waqf

old har habayit
Jewish communities might be fighting about fair access to the Kotel, but what is missing from the discussion is Jewish use of holy places in Jerusalem. The Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority’s opposition to the Kotel compromise demonstrates their intense racism. Instead of infighting, the Jewish community needs a bold and unified approach regarding access to the holiest Jewish sites and exposing injustice.

A newly released compromise for access to the Kotel calls for development of the Southern part of the Kotel wall for the creation of a mixed prayer area. The plan faces many hurdles. However, it is considered by many to be a fair solution to what seemed not long ago to be an intractable situation. Hopes are high around the world that those who most vehemently seek representation of their religious beliefs, and respect for their prayer choices at the Kotel, will accept the plan.

Even if there is a brokered settlement between opposing Jewish factions, there is a fundamental and historical challenge ahead. The most contentious front against the compromise at the Kotel will be from the Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority which regularly launch protests against any development of Jewish access to places near the Temple Mount.

Jews may be able to reach a compromise, but the Waqf and the PA will not. The PA and Waqf will wage an international campaign claiming Jews are trying to destroy the Temple Mount just as they have alleged in the past. Whatever solution is eventually created, the Waqf and Palestinian Authority will decry it as encroachment on Muslim holy sites.

PA religious affairs minister said recently [http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/PA-objects-to-Israels-Western-Wall-construction-plans-316375] that that creating a Southern Kotel Plaza in order to add an egalitarian/mixed section may “push all of us to new conflicts”. Clearly these statements are intended to be threatening. He is promising a violent and organized reaction against Jewish access to our holy site, and Israeli sovereignty.

Instead of proposing a plan to create the mixed prayer plaza, Israel needs to start negotiations about a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount itself and development of access to the Temple Mount for Jewish worshippers. Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is currently illegal. In May a group from Canadian B’nai Brith, hardly a radical or religiously extreme organization, were met with intense racism, cries of “Allah hu Akbar,” and harassment when they tried to visit the Temple Mount.

“You don’t have to send delegations to Hungary to witness raw antisemitism,” said Frank Dimant, a man known for diplomacy and moderation, “Jews are treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state.” Ironically one of the leaders of the mission to Israel, Eric Bissell, president of B’nai Brith Canada, was also a delegate to the Global Forum on Anti Semitism taking place that same week in Jerusalem.

The problem of Jewish access to the Temple Mount is of paramount importance to the future of Jewish access to other holy sites of Jerusalem some of which, like the Temple Mount and the Kotel, are clearly outside of pre-1967 borders. A future Palestinian State might make Jewish prayer there illegal. Successive Israeli governments have refused to address this racism over desires to avoid a provocation. The Kotel compromise negotiations have drawn this conflict out in the open and presents an ideal opportunity to bring to the world’s attention the intense racism of the Waqf and PA.

The Israeli position could be spelled out clearly for the West:

Israel seeks to provide all their citizens freedom of religious practice— something that the PA and Waqf are clearly against. Israel stands for tolerance of different religious beliefs and unhindered religious practice. Religions can live side-side and Muslim and Jewish worshippers deserve equal access to the Temple Mount. Israeli proposals could include a Jewish prayer area which does not encroach upon the two mosques on the Mount.

The promised outcry from the PA will present the Jewish community with the undeniable fact that they do not control the destiny of their holiest places.

If the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority succeed in making those hard won plans for compromise and fair access to the Kotel obsolete through their threats of violence, the Jewish community in America, and Israel will face a serious test.

Therefore it is in Jewish and Israeli self-interest to reach a compromise over prayer at the Kotel. Israel and Jewish communities abroad need to stand together in solidarity to ensure fair access to the all Jewish holy places like Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, rather than be bogged down in intense infighting over mixed prayer at the Kotel. Energy needs to expended upon fair prayer and fighting racism not denominational antipathy. Dueling over who decides what is authentic prayer distracts Jews from historic milestone of unfettered access to the Kotel denied for so many generations by successive occupying powers. It was not so long ago that no Jew could pray at the Kotel at all.

The debate must be change from the narrow question of fair access to a universal one – from “who prays where” at the Kotel, to “who prays where” in Jerusalem.